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The Independent Critic

Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins
Woody Allen
Rated PG-13
98 Mins.
Sony Pictures Classics

 "Blue Jasmine" is Still Woody Allen Being Woody Allen 

There will be some who proclaim Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine to be cinematic perfection. 

They are wrong. 

There will be some who proclaim Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine to be yet the latest in a long line of Allen's self-involved cinematic drivel. 

They are also wrong. 

Blue Jasmine is very nearly a great film mostly because of Woody Allen and even more because of Cate Blanchett's magnificent performance. Blue Jasmine is, however, also a quietly flawed film that could have so easily self-destructed because of Allen's occasionally strained bordering on meaningless dialogue that threatens to derail his most consistently appealing ensemble cast in years. 

Allen's first straightforward drama in quite some time, Blue Jasmine tells the story of Jeanette (Cate Blanchett), who has become accustomed to living a life as the 1% thanks to her Wall Street mogul husband (Alec Baldwin). When he gets busted for doing what the stereotypical Wall Street mogul does in the minds of the 99% and subsequently hangs himself, suddenly Jeanette's world comes crashing down in ways that are tragic, melodramatic, mesmerizing and rather old school. Jeanette becomes Jasmine because something in her mind tells her to do so. She also loses everything and is forced to move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a grocery store cashier living in San Francisco in a way not too familiar to Jasmine. Ginger isn't perfect - She's climbed out of the ashes of one crappy relationship with a working class chap (Andrew Dice Clay), yet is likely on the verge of marrying another (Bobby Cannavale). 

Blue Jasmine really showcases the best and the worst that Allen has to offer contemporary audiences. His writing and his dialogue feels very retro, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It fits with everything that is happening here, because Jasmine is a woman simultaneously trying to survive the past while forever clinging to a world that is no longer hers. It may very well resemble the thoughts and feelings of a Madoff descendant or any descendant of a busted Wall Street financier. 

The film ultimately depends upon and is rewarded by Cate Blanchett's insightful and emotionally resonant performance as Jasmine, a woman who is for the most part repulsive and non-sympathetic yet Blanchett makes her undeniably compelling and impossible to not watch. It has been awhile since Blanchett has shown up with a character this substantial, and she clearly embraces the opportunity to create meaningful cinema again while also unquestionably dropping her name into the awards season chatter. 

One gets the sense that Allen is stretching here for something grander and more meaningful, but he doesn't quite get there. Is the film aboutt the perils of wealth and what it blinds you to? Is it proposing a certain nobility in the working class? It's a tad unclear and there are times that lack of clarity holds the film back from maximizing its potential. 

It's no secret that I've never fancied myself an Allen fan. I find his films for the most part self-serving and Narcissistic with a deceptive intellect that purports a knowledge he clearly doesn't possess. Such is the case with Blue Jasmine, a film that tries hard to sell the view of the 99% despite everyone being well aware that Allen himself is a member of the 1%. His dialogue betrays his lack of experience with the true working class and the film only truly flies because he's created compelling characters that are magnificently brought to life by his ensemble cast. 

Most surprising of all his cast may very well be former reviled funnyman Andrew Dice Clay. Clay, who has been getting some buzz for supporting actor, finds the layers contained within his portrayal of Ginger's ex-husband and one of the victims of Jasmine's late husband. Clay has one scene in particular that is filled with anger and tenderness and such precise clarity that it's hard to believe it's not one of Allen's usual quality character actors. Peter Sarsgaard is also rock solid as a diplomat whom Jasmine encounters, while Michael Stuhlbarg impresses as a dentist employer of Jasmine's who thinks he has more sway than he really does. On the flip side, Louis C.K. is criminally under-utilized as someone who is smitten with Ginger. 

As is true of all Woody Allen films, Blue Jasmine is dialogue heavy and generally devoid of anything resembling a distraction or special effect. While one can fault Woody Allen's constant return to familiar themes and dialogue, it's hard not to respect a guy who so constantly emphasizes some degree of  substance over Hollywood's tendency towards style. 

Blue Jasmine isn't a brilliant film, but for this non-Woody Allen fan it was an immensely satisfying and compelling film featuring performances from Cate Blanchett and Andrew Dice Clay that should find themselves remembered come awards season. At the age of 77, it's likely unreasonable to expect Allen to turn away from a directorial style that has fueled his entire career. 

So be it. 

Blue Jasmine may be a flawed film, but it's still an indie gem that stands as one of his most wholly satisfying films in years and possibly on par with Match Point. Woody Allen may have no clue what the 99% really live like, but I have a feeling that the film is ultimately about what happens when the 1% isn't the 1% anymore and how their internal and external reality changes. 

Allen may not completely "get it," but he still tells a pretty remarkable story. 

© Written by Richard Propes 
The Independent Critic